Khali Best’s one-year anniversary on BBC1 soap EastEnders has coincided with a nomination for Most Popular Newcomer at this year’s National Television Awards. So what better time to catch up with the actor who plays mechanic Dexter Hartman? How is he finding life in E20 – and does he think that the show has recently experienced a return to form?
Do you still feel like a newcomer?
I do still feel very new because these past 12 months have gone by so quickly. I’m comfortable, though. Other cast members, who have been here longer than I have, tell me that they didn’t feel part of the ensemble until three years in. But I think it’s different strokes for different folks.
Do you feel that the show has been reinvigorated lately?
Yes, there’s a real buzz about the show right now, which is good. It’s really good for the actors – we know the show is getting good again and it makes us want to work that bit harder. I think everyone is excited about the Carters, simply because of how diverse they are. And the casting of Danny Dyer as Mick and Kellie Bright as Linda is refreshing for the audience. But across the board, all the cast members have got their game face on. Walking round the set, you can sense people are excited about both their scripts and getting the show back where it needs to be.
What do you hope for Dexter and his friendship – for want of a better word – with Nancy?
Only time will tell. I can’t have that much say on the matter because I’m not a writer. But I think they’re two good characters who could work well together.
And I’m right in thinking that you knew Maddy Hill [Nancy] before she joined the show?
Correct. Maddy and I both attended the same drama school and she’s been a good friend of mine for about five years. She was panicking about meeting everyone when she started at EastEnders, so I helped her take stock and realise that it would all become second nature.
Did you feel vulnerable when your screen parents Clare Perkins and Cornell S John left the show?
Character-wise, Dexter needed to understand the family situation, especially the relationship that he hadn’t had with his dad. He needed to see it for what it really was, so he can move on with his life. As for me, I felt that the Hartman family were a good unit and they haven’t been killed off, so they can always come back. But it was time for a breath of fresh air.
How has your life changed since joining EastEnders? Do certain things – like catching the Tube or walking down the street – become impossible?
Nothing’s impossible. You still have to have a normal life. I just aim to be as normal as I can about it. It comes with the territory and you can’t shy away from it. So you just embrace it.
Do you feel like you have to be an ambassador for the show when you’re out and about?
Well, I’m a nice guy anyway, so I’m always polite and smiley! Obviously, being on a show like EastEnders means that people want your attention, but it doesn’t bother me at all. It’s always love at the end of the day, so I don’t know how you could have a bad attitude about it.
Do you think EastEnders is at its best when it tackles family issues such as the recent scene where Johnny came out as gay? Or do you prefer the big spectacle stunts?
That’s a good question. I think big spectacle plots such as ‘Who Killed Archie?’ are good because nobody knew until the day who the murderer was. And it’s stuff like that which makes EastEnders different from the other soaps. But it can also surprise the viewers by having powerful scenes such as that recent one between Johnny and Mick. EastEnders should definitely offer a slice of reality.
Do you think that the power of soaps lies in the fact that we can follow these characters over years and that we’re therefore very caught up in their lives?
Yes – the way the writers explore the everyday lives of people really resonates with viewers. EastEnders is like looking in a mirror.
Do you sometimes add your own spin to Dexter’s lines?
To a degree, but I still try to honour the script as much as I can. I don’t ever change the story, but if I can find a better word, then I’ll use it.
Is there an actor on the show with whom you’d like to have more scenes?
Jake Wood. I haven’t done much one-to-one stuff with Jake and I think that would be good. Max and Dexter have a connection. They might not be blood relations, but it could be fun if that were to be explored.
I know that you were at the Royal Court before you were in EastEnders – do you still have ambitions to do more plays?
Yes, it’s always on the cards. Actors can’t help themselves – if I get the opportunity to work at the National Theatre, let’s just say, then I’d jump at the chance. It’s something that you’d want to do – you want to be on the Olivier stage acting as Hamlet. Theatre is always something that’s on the cards. But at the moment, I’m good.
And what are your hopes for both Dexter and yourself in 2014?
Dexter’s very eccentric, so I hope he finds some inner peace. And Khali’s cool – I’m easy like Sunday morning right now. I’m working. I’m happy.
To vote for Khali Best in the Most Popular Newcomer category at the National Television Awards, click here